As an only child growing up on a farm in Connecticut, Bill Berloni never felt lonely or thought he was missing something by not having siblings for playmates. He had friends — his dog Rexie, a cat and a rabbit — who stayed by his side day in and day out.
“My animals followed me around because they liked me,” he says. He wasn’t aware of it at the time, but he was absorbing the knowledge that became the foundation for his 37-year career as a theatrical animal trainer, which began in 1976 when he rescued and trained mixed-breed Sandy for the original production of the musical Annie.
An animal that likes and trusts you will want to be with you and do whatever you ask of it, Berloni says. It’s a simple premise, but one that has proved successful in training dogs, cats, pigs and other animals for 24 Broadway plays and musicals, including current shows A Christmas Story and Annie. And it’s the premise that’s guiding him as he works with two 140-pound Irish wolfhounds who are in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s current world premiere production of Because of Winn Dixie.
See Wednesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more about these talented dogs and the man who trained them.